IRB – Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (Author)
A 9 November 2000 report entitled Women 2000: An Investigation Into the Status of Women's Rights in the Former Soviet Union and Central and South Eastern Europe, published by the Vienna-Based International Helsinki Federation For Human Rights (IHF), states that:
To a large degree, violence in the family remains beyond the legal system and out of public attention for many reasons, including inter alia women's desire to preserve the family, the co-dependence of victims on their offenders, the desire not to bring the authorities into family conflicts, the desire not to "wash dirty linen in public" and also the difficulty of relating certain acts of violence to criminal acts. Due to the current housing system, divorce hardly ever brings an end to co-habitation and divorced couples are often forced to live under the same roof.
For victims, the first and most important point of contact with the legal system is the police. The victim must present all the necessary information to the police, whereas the latter have no obligation to inform the victim of her rights, etc. Thus, in practice, the exchange of information is one-sided. Family conflicts are one of the most common reasons for which the police are called, but their role in dealing with complaints of violence in the family is traditionally one of limited intervention. The offender is, as a rule, only detained on grounds such as drunkenness, resisting a policeman, or hooliganism. A violent husband may also be charged a penalty, although in such cases it is the family budget that suffers most. The police are not trained to deal with cases of domestic violence. As a result, they fail to understand that the victim has suffered psychological distress. They believe that a woman victim of violence in the family only wants to put an end to the current incident, and does not want to initiate legal proceedings. There are additional factors that prevent current or potential victims from approaching the police, including the well-founded assumption of victims that the offender will not be arrested, lack of faith in the legal system, fear that the investigation will be degrading, and a desire not to make their secret public. According to information provided by the Belarusan Association of Social Workers, only 4-5% of women who fall victim to violence report the case to the police; 35% of women say nothing and 52% share the experience with acquaintances. In cases of domestic violence, there is even more secrecy involved...
To address the issue of violence against women, the Ministry of Social Affairs with the support of the UN and Gender Information and Policy Centre carried out a scientific research project entitled "Violence against women as a social problem". The centre's main achievements include the joint implementation of the project "Violence as a social problem" with the Young Christian Women Association, which was accompanied by two public actions "A week without violence against women" (1-7 March, 1999) a week promoting the theme "You can stop violence by yourself" (22-26 November, 1999). Free psychological and legal advice was offered to women victims of violence during these weeks of gender public awareness, together with self-defence training for young women students. The GIPC also supported three NGO projects: the "Development of Women's Educational and Consulting Centre", "Violence against women as a social problem", and the "Legal education of women students in the sphere of employment". In addition, in co-operation with international charity organisations, a programme entitled "A step towards mutual understanding" is being carried out by women volunteers and is aimed at urging women to show private initiative in resolving conflict situations. The women's educational-consultative centre is involved in raising women's legal awareness and providing assistance to women victims of domestic violence. A crisis centre for such victims was opened in Minsk in 1998. Plans have been made to set up similar centres in other regions as well, but so far no other shelters for abused women have been established.
A May 2000 fact sheet on violence against women published on the UN Women Watch Website and based on the "Review and Appraisal of the Implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action: Report of the Secretary-General" (E/CN.6/2000/PC/2) states that Belarus has criminalized "sexual violence" against women by their husbands and sought to introduce shelters and hot lines for women who are the victims of violence. The report does not provide specific information with regards to domestic violence.
A 31 January 2000 M2 Presswire report on the Belarus third periodic report to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) quotes an expert member of the Committee as saying that Belarus government has come to consider violence against women as a "very serious problem" and has begun to raise awareness about it. The expert also stated that the laws had to be changed to allow women to seek protection.
No further information on protection for women who are the victims of domestic violence could be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate.
This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum. Please find below the additional list of sources consulted in researching this Information Request.
International Helsinki Federation for Human
Rights (IHF). 9 November 2000. Women 2000: an Investigation Into
the Status of Women's Rights in the Former Soviet Union and Central
and South Eastern Europe: Belarus. http://www.ihf-hr.org [Accessed 27 Nov.